Opinion

Corporate Takeover of Earth Day Underway

Three years ago, BP kicked off Earth Day with an oil spill of epic proportions that flowed for three months. It was a signal, perhaps, of the failure of decades of preceding Earth Days to save the planet from this sort of ruination.

This year, it’s time to acknowledge the cold and unappealing truth: Earth Day’s poignancy and relevance has faded. That there should be an appointed day when we humans should all give a hoot about the planet appeals to the lowest common denominator and opens the door to all manner of marketing gimmickry and greenback-seeking hoi polloi.

In an era when the “Lorax” movie is cross-promoted with an SUV, plastic bottles are touted as green and the inventor of plastic cups stuffed into Styrofoam cups sponsors April cleanups, the corporate takeover of Earth Day is inevitable.

When it was first observed in San Francisco and other cities in 1970, Earth Day was a useful tool for raising awareness about the plight of the planet. But today, it seems very much a lesson of one-and-done, a wink and a nod to the dearness of our planet. A day for parades, cleanups, festivals and kids’ activities. And then?

This week, plan to be inundated with invitations to volunteer at cleanups around the Ocean State. These efforts are well intentioned and result in many, many thousands of pounds of trash removed from beaches, parks and neighborhoods by hardworking people.

ecoRI News participated in several of these cleanups last year and even sponsored one of our own. We diligently combed through neighborhood blocks and beaches, picking up the fragments of our throwaway culture —cigarette butts, straws, plastic bottles, Styrofoam cups and all manner of other litter.

But a year has passed, and those neighborhoods and beaches we and many other Rhode Islanders helped clean are trashed once again and in need of cleaning. And so more volunteer crews will be enlisted this year to clean up the same mess. And then?

It takes so much more than just a day to tend to and care for our planet. We’re talking behavioral shifts that must be taught in schools and religious institutions; awareness that resources are finite; appreciation that our existence on this earth is tenuous, at best, and inextricably linked to the health of our waters, soil and air.

And so, it is time for us to evolve beyond Earth Day and instead commit to the dowdier alternative: making small but important gestures every single day to be good stewards of the planet we call home.

The rules are simple and unsexy, and you don’t get a free reusable tote bag with purchase: Buy less stuff, reuse, repair what you already own, recycle and compost food scraps.

Joanna Detz is the ecoRI News publisher.

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  1. Sadly we are losing the battle to keep planet Earth healthy. Corporate Greenwashing is everywhere. But I am not ready to give up on Earth Day just yet.So I will be out cleaning along my neighborhood river this weekend despite the fact that it will be trashed again soon.

  2. Every year I write a poem for Earth Day or perhaps it is prayer that we will no longer need Earth Day to remind people to tend to our planet. That it will be automatic, people will learn not to waste what they have, will buy local, commute responsibly, and try their best to keep the planet healthy because they will soon realize that if the planet is healthy we all become healthier.
    Here's a poem I wrote after volunteering at an Earth Day Clean-up along the Blackstone River.

    Earth Day Cleanup

    As volunteers come together
    to clean and spruce up the valley,
    bikers, rollerbladers,
    walkers and kayakers
    enjoy a mild spring day
    along or on the canal and river.
    Amid the trash, some glories
    of the season, daffodils and tulips,
    splashes of yellow and orange
    to remind us of Earth's beauty.

  3. For many years, I also used to think of Earth Day cleanups as kind of a pointless exercise. But I think their impact goes far beyond just what we see on that one morning. All of those people who participate are connecting with their local place and their local community. Picking up the trash may last for just one day, but those connections will pay dividends all year long. Also, the cleanups can have an impact… at Roger Williams Park, for example, after five years of cleanups, organizers are finding less and less of the bigger trash.

    Also keep in mind that not all the trash results from mindless littering. Much of it is flushed into waterways via storm drains, or carried on the wind from overflowing trash cans… addressing these sources with improved infrastructure can help. But ultimately we need neighbors to get out and keep cleaning all year round… imagine what your own house and yard would look like, if we only cleaned it once a year! Yet we keep at it. We need to do the same for our public spaces.

  4. There is only one way to describe how we treat our environment, even though it’s an insult to a basically clean creature-PIGS!

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